LOS ANGELES (AP) — Southern California got big games from two freshmen and a couple of veterans, leading to the kind of collective offense the Trojans had been missing for more than a month.
Nikola Jovanovic scored a career-high 23 points and USC led all the way in beating California 77-69 Wednesday night for the Trojans’ first Pac-12 victory after an 0-5 start.
“It’s huge. We were all just clicking,” said Byron Wesley, who added 14 points and seven rebounds.
Freshman Julian Jacobs and Pe’Shon Howard had 12 points each, while Howard had 10 assists for the Trojans (10-9, 1-5), who had four players in double figures for the first time since Dec. 19 in a loss at Long Beach State. They ended their worst start in league play since 2012. Jovanovic made 8 of 10 field goals and all seven of his free throw attempts.
“Obviously a big win for us,” first-year coach Andy Enfield said. “We had a very frustrating couple of weeks. This league is just a bear every night.”
Justin Cobbs scored 22 points and Jordan Mathews added 18 for the Golden Bears (14-5, 5-1). The loss left idle No. 1 Arizona as the league’s only undefeated team. The Bears had their six-game overall winning streak snapped and their four-game streak against USC ended.
“Not to downplay USC, they’re a good team, but you go from being a team that’s leading the league in conference at 5-0 to a team that’s 0-5, you don’t want to lose a game like this,” Cobbs said. “They beat us fair and square, but I obviously think we’re a better team.”
Cal big men Richard Solomon and David Kravish combined for 19 points. They had been averaging a combined 33.8 points. Solomon had 13 rebounds.
“We came out flat, they had more energy, they were ready, we weren’t ready to play I guess,” Solomon said. “I don’t think their size bothered us. We got beat at the point of the attack, and we didn’t rotate the way we needed to rotate so it just caused problems all across the board.”
The Trojans had lost a season-high five straight by an average of 22.4 points. But they came out energized from the opening tip, racing to a 19-8 lead.
“Cal is an outstanding team with a lot of firepower on offense,” Enfield said. “We defended, we had a lot of energy and made a lot of shots early to give us confidence.”
Led by Jovanovic, a 6-foot-10 freshman from Serbia, and Omar Oraby, a 7-2 senior from Egypt, the Trojans were able to control the boards, 37-33, while limiting the shots of the 6-10 Solomon and 6-9 Kravish. USC dominated the paint, 44-26. Oraby finished with nine points and seven rebounds.
“We were really focused on boxing them out,” Jovanovic said.
Solomon fouled out with 1:07 to go after scoring four points on 2-of-2 shooting in the second half.
“We were a step behind and when we tried to execute certain things, guys were at the wrong spots,” Cal coach Mike Montgomery said. “Our focus was very, very poor and there’s no excuse for that.”
The Trojans shot 56 percent in the first half. USC stretched its lead to 35-22 — largest of the half — on Howard’s 3-pointer.
The Bears got within five points late in the half before USC closed with a 6-2 spurt to lead 41-32 at the break. Cal was held to 32 percent shooting.
Cal got no closer than seven points twice — the first time on Kravish’s first basket of the game to open the second half and later on a 3-pointer by Tyrone Wallace with 1:36 left. The Bears were seeking their first 6-0 start in league play since 2003 when they began 7-0.
“We didn’t have much of an advantage inside there,” Montgomery said. “They just killed us in the paint. A lot of that wasn’t just their big guys, it was guys getting in the paint and scoring.”
USC built its largest lead, 64-49, on a basket by Jacobs with 8 1/2 minutes to go.
“We got pretty self-satisfied,” Montgomery said. “I don’t think kids really recognize why we won some games and what it takes to win some games in this league.”